NIAGARA FALLS -- Friday night's Kenny Rogers concert in the Seneca Niagara Events Center showcased Kenny Rogers' career, drawing from his 50-year catalog of hits.
In many ways it was a concert where Rogers and his crew could sort out what works and what doesn't prior to heading down to the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut, where he's scheduled to film a big television special on April 10.
That show, "Kenny Rogers: The First 50 Years," will be chock-full of big-name guest stars (Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, the Oak Ridge Boys, Alison Krauss, etc., etc.) who will help Rogers survey his career. If that's true, and there's no reason not to think so, the whole operation will have a valedictory feel to it and who can truthfully say Rogers doesn't deserve the honor?
His concert in Niagara Falls was a love fest, featuring a packed hall of fans. They sang along on choruses, clapped as close as they could to the rhythms and laughed in all the right places. It was a good thing, a loving thing between a performer with a long career and an audience that loved his achievements.
For the most part, Rogers rolled out his hits one after another, but there were breaks for him to woo the crowd with a well-honed mixture of jokes, stories and cajolery that demonstrated a true entertainer's way with his fan base. He also gave his band opportunities to showcase their talents (fiddler Amber Randall was a wonderful beneficiary of this option), a tactic that also gave Rogers a shot at resting his singing voice.
There was no disguising the fact that when he reached for those husky tones that used to live in the back of his throat, Rogers couldn't quite pull them to the forefront. Although he didn't quite have the consistent power of his earlier years, there was just enough oomph to his singing to nudge an audience's memory into filling the gaps of reality.
But one should remember that this man has had a career dating back more than 50 years, going back to those pseudo-psychedelic years of the mid-1960s when he was singing "Just Dropped In." For Friday's concert, Rogers even showed some film clips of his old group, the First Edition, playing that tune while Rogers and his current band filled in the sonic gaps.
Early hits like "Lucille" and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town," along with mid-period classics like "Coward of the County," "She Believes In Me" and "You Decorated My Life" all got their due, but the biggest fan reaction seemed to come with "The Gambler."
This later song also featured film clips from, as Rogers' noted, "The Gamblers, numbers 1 through 5," which brought laughs from the audience, even as they chimed in on the choruses. Then, when Rogers introduced a cinematic snippet from a supposed sixth entry in the Gambler franchise, one that featured the rapper Coolio as a major figure, the crowd roared in laughter at the incongruousness of the situation.
All in all, it was an entertaining show, but one that was at its best for the memories shared by Rogers and his fans.
Friday evening in the Seneca Niagara Events Center.